Disclaimer: It belongs to people far greater than I
This one's been collecting dust on my hard-drive for a while now, and after a little (a lot) of editing I finally managed to get off my ass and post it. I am, quite possibly, the definition of procrastination. As always, reviews are greatly appreciated!
The walk had always been a lonely one; it seemed the corridors of the Vatican never failed to empty themselves of the normal clusters of soft-spoken monks upon his return, a subtle avoidance of the feared monster hunter. So he walked alone down the seemingly endless corridor, carrying the weight of another murder on his shoulders and wishing that the stone cherubs carved into the sloping ceilings would stop watching him pass under their judging gaze on his way to the confessional.
He would walk in, his hat clutched in calloused hands out of respect for a God that has done him no favors, and bow his head to Cardinal Jinette, waiting behind the screen. Each time, Van Helsing knew the Cardinal's features were twisted into a disapproving scowl as the monster hunter closed his eyes and made the sign of the cross: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned".
This time, though, was different, worse in such a way that it physically hurt Van Helsing to walk down those same corridors. And even though a somber Carl walked next to him, hunched over in his robes, Van Helsing felt, he knew, he was more alone than ever. He spared the friar behind him a glance and noticed he was clumsily fingering his rosary underneath the folds of his robes, hands shaking. He was muttering in soft Latin under his breath, and even though Van Helsing couldn't understand the words themselves, he understood easily enough who they were meant for. He had to force himself to look away.
The cherubs watched silently from the ceiling as the two men passed beneath, and Van Helsing couldn't help but notice they seemed to be leering at him from their perches. He was overcome with the sudden urge to shoulder his crossbow, sending bolts flying at their mocking gazes until each one was reduced to a pile of pebbles and dust. His hands, however, remained at his sides, fists clenched so hard his nails dugs into his palm, and Van Helsing was forced to endure their soundless taunting.
The duo had reached the confessional; Carl lingered several paces away, offering Van Helsing a nervous nod as the monster hunter opened the door, closing it behind him without a second thought.
The silence that hung in the confessional was thick and suffocating, and surprisingly, Van Helsing made no attempt to break it, neglecting to mutter the expected prayer. The Cardinal, clearly unpleased and unamused by Van Helsing's blatant omission, spoke from behind the screen.
"Forgive me, Father…" he prompted, his clipped tone obviously meant to incite Van Helsing to begin his 'confession'. The lack of response from Van Helsing spoke volumes, and the confessional seemed to pulse with the terse silence, broken only by sporadic huffs from Van Helsing, fighting even now to control his ragged breaths.
The Cardinal had enough; he slid back the screen hiding him from Van Helsing in annoyance, not pleased with the monster hunter. "Van Helsing," he hissed expectantly, his frustration almost palpable. When he was again met with no response form the silent monster slayer he sighed heavily. "You must confess to Him your sins so that He might offer you forgiveness" he explained almost wearily, a deep furrow forming in his brow.
At this, Van Helsing looked up, catching his eye; the Cardinal looked so old, so worn, in the candlelight, and it was looking directly into Jinette's watery, pale eyes that Van Helsing delivered his answer:
"It is no longer His forgiveness I seek."
The grating came down then, at the push of a lever on the Cardinal's part, with such a sudden speed that left Van Helsing no time to react. By the time he was on his feet, the grating was in place and he was trapped, not for the first time, in the confessional with the irritated Cardinal.
"I hardly see how that was necessary" Van Helsing quipped, still facing the grating. His gaze never wavered from the metal-work in front of him.
The Cardinal pursed his lips, obviously biting back a sharp retort; the deadly monotone of Van Helsing's speech now, a low, angry tone he hadn't head before, kept him from snapping at the man. Instead, Cardinal Jinette collected himself, smoothing the front of his red robes as he fought to find the right words. "Sit down, Van Helsing" he conceded finally, but the grate remained down and so Van Helsing remained standing before it.
The Cardinal could see Van Helsing's jaw visibly tense and promptly cut off whatever the agitated monster hunter was about to say. "What you said, Van Helsing, was blasphemy. You must admit to Him your shortcomings; only then may they be forgiven. Only then will you be absolved for your sins."
But Van Helsing had stopped listening to the Cardinal, unable to make himself heed the pious old man as a swarm of memories swam into his vision:
"You refuse to obey our laws?" Her face was a mask of disbelief, eyebrows raised in a questioning manner and Van Helsing recalled priding himself on remembering to answer her, almost unable to distract himself for even a moment from tearing his gaze from her.
"The laws of men
mean little to me" he had told her dryly, the smallest hint of a grin working its way onto his features.
"Fine" she had replied, as if his response meant nothing to her. Her pose did not waver, she stood strong on the edge of the well, strikingly beautiful to him even then, and addressed the throng of villagers surrounding them. "Kill them" she said dismissively.
"I'm here to help you," he'd amended, stepping forward as if the crowd of armed villagers were not there. He was fairly sure he heard Carl give a frightened whimper as the crowd moved closer, but he ignored them, listening instead to Anna.
Her tone dipped, insulted by his insinuation. "I don't need any help."
His eyes widened as he looked just over her shoulder. "Oh really?" he'd asked, and remembered thanking God she'd ducked in time, hearing the Brides swooping down behind her.
"You still don't understand. It doesn't matter what happens to me, we must save my family." She had tried to turn away from him then, but he caught her arm, tugging her back. She looked up at him questioningly.
"If you're late," he told her, panting slightly from either the werewolf venom now coursing through him or the proximity of the gypsy princess, "Run like hell." His hand made their way to her arms, pulling her closer to him.
She didn't speak, her gaze flickering from his solemn eyes to his lips, as if to take in his face, before nodding quickly. Her breaths were visible clouds in the cold air, hanging just near his face, and Van Helsing found himself reaching for her arm once more when she tried to rejoin Carl.
"Don't be late" he'd told her, and it'd taken all his willpower to keep the tremor from his voice. They both fell silent, unable to convey the flurry of emotions their mere proximity caused each other. Her breathing slowed, becoming less and less ragged, and Van Helsing's face became less harsh, relaxing in the presence of Anna. It took her far too long he thought, to bring her hands to the back of his head, pulling his face towards her in a crushing kiss. But it had been worth the wait.
He drew his arms around her, hands happily tangling in the chocolate curls falling over her neck, and he felt her fingers pressing into his head, his neck, roaming feverishly. He'd pulled away reluctantly, eyes locking with hers. She tipped her head up silently, as if to catch his lips once more, but Van Helsing knew should that happen he would never leave her. He would be unable to tear himself from her to face Dracula. The monster's children would come to life and Anna's family would be kept from entering the gates of Heaven. Even then ... it was almost worth it.
The reluctance was evident in his voice. "Now go" he'd gasped, eyes never leaving hers. "Go, go…" She'd nodded breathlessly before turning away from him, running to rejoin Carl and Igor. This time he didn't stop her.
He should have.
There was no doubt she was dead at the castle. Even as the last remnants of the werewolf venom dissipated within him, he knew, and let out a howl, the call of a beast crying for its lost mate. She was dead in his arms, but he held her, pressing her to him as he sobbed, as if that would bring her back. Never letting her slip from his embrace, Van Helsing tore blindly at his hand, ripping Dracula's ring off his finger. He flung it across the room, listening as it bounced off the stone floor, coming to rest somewhere underneath a still-sparking generator. Van Helsing was glad to be rid of it.
Then they were on the hill, and he was forced to say goodbye to the one person he might have loved. The day was clear, the sky a pale shade of blue he'd never witnessed previously, and he found himself wishing it was raining…thundering…anything. He wished the sky was angry and dark and violent, because this crisp, golden day was the kind he could picture himself enjoying with Anna. Riding along the bluffs. Taking her to the shore and watching her, content to see the radiance in her eyes upon finally visiting the sea. Feeling her lips pressed once more against his as the soft waves lapped against their feet.
He bought a hand to her face, cupping her cheek. Her skin was cold, like ice, and suddenly he, too, felt frozen. He wondered idly if he'd ever feel warm again.
He'd bent down to her then, placing a kiss on her forehead before burying his face in her hair. "I'm sorry," he'd pleaded, "Oh God, Anna, I'm so sorry." He'd been unable to control himself, sobbing softly into her hair all the innocents and monsters alike that had ever died at his hand. He told her everything, cradling the gypsy princess in his arms until he felt a hand on his shaking shoulder: Carl.
Van Helsing had never before seen a sight both sickening and beautiful at the same time. He couldn't tear his eyes from the flames.
The monster hunter shook his head, forcibly jarring himself form his thoughts. He didn't wish, now, to finish reliving that particular memory.
Cardinal Jinette was eyeing him quietly, and Van Helsing steeled himself, standing unflinching under his gaze. He spoke again, his voice still a dangerously low tone, "I have mad my confessions to those whom they concern."
"Only He may make that decision" Jinette lectured sternly, not finding Van Helsing's response satisfactory. "We are all His children, Van Helsing" he continued after a pause, seeing the monster hunter had no reply, "and we all must seek His forgiveness. You are an instrument of God!" The reverence in his voice was apparent, and something in Van Helsing's stomach twisted upon hearing the thinly veiled eagerness in the Cardinal's tone.
Van Helsing sat down, lifting his head to catch the Cardinal's eye head-on. "I never asked to be" he said bluntly, watching to gauge Jinette's reaction.
The Cardinal retorted, just as calmly, "You didn't have to."
The monster hunter's eyes narrowed at this, unable to stop an angry scoff from escaping him. "I never wanted this!" he spoke through gritted teeth, his eyes rolling to gaze upwards at a corner at the confessional, finding it easier to watch then the Cardinal as he continued his tirade. "I never wanted to do God's work. It's cost me everything, and I had very little to begin with, Cardinal. I've lost my freedom. I can't take five steps from the damn front doors before I become a wanted man. I don't recall asking for that!"
"But Van Helsing," Jinette's eyes lit up, willing the monster hunter to understand, "The promise of your memories…does that mean nothing to you?" He was surprised at Van Helsing's answer:
"At what price? This, He, has cost me Ann- " he stopped himself, unwilling to share her memory with the Cardinal. "He has cost me my future" he amended vaguely, his voice an angry hiss, "which I would wholly prefer over fragments of my past."
Cardinal Jinette seemed ill-equipped to respond, his mouth slightly gaping as the right words failed him. Neither man spoke.
The Cardinal looked up, catching a small movement made by Van Helsing. The monster hunter had put his fingers to an ornate cross, silver, hanging from a chain around his neck. The design was intricate, uncharacteristically delicate for the monster slayer, yet it did not look out of place tucked under the collar of Van Helsing's shirt, Jinette concluded. He wondered where it came from.
Van Helsing quickly tucked the cross back under his shirt upon realizing the Cardinal's gaze was on him. He said nothing, however, waiting for Jinette to speak first.
The Cardinal studied him for the briefest of moments, surprised to see a flicker of something that looked terribly similar to pain – Sorrow? Guilt? – darken the man's features before it was gone. He stuttered, unsure what to say. "There is still evil which needs to be vanquished."
Van Helsing's head dipped into the slightest of nods. "I accept that,"– Cardinal Jinette visibly relaxed in his seat –"Just as you must accept it is no longer in His name I fight." His face was stern, tone curt and determined, but the Cardinal was left confused by Van Helsing's cryptic statement.
"Who –" he began, but was cut off by Van Helsing, grown tired of the conversation, reaching through the small window of the confessional, efficiently flipping the small lever to release the grating confining him to the confessional. Jinette was rendered speechless by the unexpected action, unable to comprehend what was happening, and yet later he would realize the monster slayer's right hand was conspicuously bare of the thick ring Van Helsing always wore.
Van Helsing stooped to exit the cramped confines of the confessional, before wordlessly turning to face the stunned Cardinal. His previous question remained unasked on the tip of his tongue. Van Helsing waited with a patience he had never seemed to possess as the Cardinal posed his question. Even then he could not find the right words, "Who, then? In whose name…?"
For the first time the Cardinal could remember, the corners of Van Helsing's mouth quirked upward in the beginning of the smallest smile. He stared directly at the Cardinal from underneath the brim of a hat, Jinette realized suddenly, he'd never bothered to remove, the affection in his eyes apparent.